If you want to see an over dramatization of how many mother’s feel at the end of the day, just watch the ending scene of Schindler’s List. As he is being thanked for saving hundreds of people, he begins to cry saying that he didn’t help enough. One of the men he saved says “There will be generations because of what you did” and Schindler answers “I didn’t do enough”.
I think of that guilt ridden scene often when I suffocate under the weight of all there is to be done, and how much more I could or should be doing. While my friends, family, and even my children will bring to my attention the many good deeds, or heroic mommy moments, I still see the missed moments. After all how can it ever be enough? We live in an expansive universe with so much at our fingertips, and I want to give it all, do it all, and be it all for my children.
This feeling is only exacerbated by having a special needs child who is almost five years old and not yet talking, toilet trained, or reaching other milestones that most anticipate for his age. He is learning at his own pace, in his own way, and requires an increased amount of repetition to learn simple tasks. I know that his autism diagnosis doesn’t put a roof on his abilities, or his future, and that like every child there are infinite and wonderful possibilities for him. For that very reason I Schindler myself almost every day with feeling like everything we’re doing for him is just not enough. If we could just do this one more thing, or find a little more money for this one other therapy, or just a little more time on this certain skillset. When it comes to the very basic human function of communication, how can I rest until we’ve exhausted all possibilities and given him every support possible to progress in this arena?
Too often I overwhelm myself with the thousands of things that I should be doing every day to ensure my children the greatest childhood and best future possible. Unfortunately despite my lofty intentions I usually only last a few days before I crash and burn. Yes, I pick myself up again and charge forward, but over the past year I’ve asked myself if there’s a way that I could have more consistency in my efforts, instead of always feeling like I put my best foot forward and then fall flat on my face.
I am learning that the way to do that, is to take baby steps. I am learning to strive for “good enough” because if I’m focused on all I can’t get done in a day, I will have no energy toward what could be done. Recently I had this pang of anxiety around my son’s speech. Next month he turns five years old, and if you have a pre-verbal child than you have probably heard that if your child isn’t speaking by age five, the likelihood of them developing any speech at all greatly reduces. More and more children who were once considered nonverbal are developing language at later ages as parents and therapist have learned not to give up on these late talkers, and found new strategies for the continued development of language at later ages, but it still feels like one more thing stacked against him.
This anxiety brought on a Schindler’s moment thinking of all the things I should be doing to help my son with his speech. Corbin has had a lot of language come and go in his life, and it’s not uncommon to hear an entire sentence one day, and then nothing that I understand for weeks. He’s a vocal little boy, and while he knows what he’s saying, I usually don’t. Occasionally I can get him to make a verbal request, but not with any consistency.
I see other children with my son’s same diagnosis who have developed language and I tell myself not to compare, but I compare anyways. I look at what those parents have done with their children and I wonder if I had done the same if my son would have more ability to express himself today. I try to remind myself of all we have done , of what a sweet and happy boy he is and yet that voice in the background plays on repeat “I didn’t do enough.”
I have a real “can do” “fix it” personality, but I’m also inconsistent, flippant, dramatic, easily bored, and even the word “repetition” makes me feel ill. A lover of novelty I make many promises to engage in repetitive learning activities with my son, and then when my soul slowly dies from the lack of variety in my life, I give up and the recording plays “I didn’t do enough.”
Okay, so what to do? I know my son can talk. I know he requires an exhaustive amount of repetition and supports in this area, and I know that his school is doing everything in their power to provide that for him, but I need to do more. Instead of making a laundry list of things that I will undoubtedly fail at keeping up with, I have committed to one small action.
Corbin is a lover of baked goods, and since cookies are such a motivator for him, I decided to work on this one word “cookie”. I made a small commitment to read him a book each day about a cookie, encourage him to say and/or sign the word “cookie” and at the end give him a cookie.
I baked him some healthy cookies at first, but my excitement on baking wore off quickly, and we’ve been settling for store bought the last couple days. I almost let myself drop the whole routine simply because I didn’t bake the cookies, and I’m so glad that I let it be “good enough” and grabbed some from the store. Some days we don’t get through the whole book, and some days, I’m rushed, and he’s grumpy, but we’ve been doing it for over a week now, and twice he’s said the word “cookie” during our cookie time.
I went to the Open Door Bookstore on Jay Street in Schenectady and got the book “Cookies Bite-Size Life Lessons” for our cookie time. I like this book because it’s a board book (durable and he can flip the pages) it shares a lot of different concepts from being patient while the cookies bake, to sharing when they’re done, but most of all it says “cookie” over and over and over and over and over again as well as having a picture of a cookie on almost every page.
There will always be more that can be done. It is the nature of believing in your child’s potential to succeed against all odds, and be all that we see in them, that drives us to unending efforts to pave the way for that. I know we all have those guilt ridden, panic stricken moments, but don’t let them steal the joy of parenting. Take a breath, make a plan, and move along. If all else fails, have a cookie with your kids.
Janaiah von Hassel